Culinary students serve it up

March 2, 2012

Culinary Arts students serve food at weekly luncheon.Chef Warren Leigh and students prepare a hot lunch.

Anyone with a taste for fine dining need look only so far as the Picknelly Dining Room on Wednesdays to get their fill. 

There you will find a full-fledged gourmet restaurant in action, courtesy of the Culinary Arts Department. For ten weeks every semester, the students in Culinary 230: A La Carte Cooking and Service prepare and serve a full menu of gustatorial selections for only $8 a person. Just like at the best restaurants, reservations are required.

The patrons are mostly HCC faculty and staff, though students are welcome too. "We don't turn anyone away," said Julie Turgeon, one of the Culinary 230 instructors. Each lunch typically attracts between 65 and 80 people during staggered seating times from 11:15 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. 

The 19 students in the class take turns each week working different staff positions as if they were working in a real restaurant. In the dining room, there is a maitre'd, a host, several front servers and back servers and a busser. In the kitchen, there is a chef, sous chef, a dishwasher, someone working on appetizers, a few people in the bakery and a few on the "hot  line."

"Personally, I like being in the kitchen, cooking," said student Dino Diaz Jr., from Springfield, "but we have to learn all facets of the culinary field.You have to take turns being a server or a backserver or doing prep work or doing dishes. I don't mind. I'll do it all to learn it all."

Culinary 230 meets three days a week. On Mondays, students meet for a lecture, learning about culinary history, sustainability, food service and hospitality standards and current events in the field. On Tuesdays, from 1 to 5 p.m., they do basic prep work and setup. "Wednesday is execution," said Turgeon, and the students will be working all day, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

"What's tough about this is we do it it all in one day," said chef and culinary instructor Warren Leigh. "We have to do all the prep on Tuesday and open our restaurant on Wednesday and close the rest of the week and then open it up again the next week. It would be easier on the students if we were open every day."

Each week features a different theme, such as Italian, French, Spanish, Southern, Asian. There is also asparagus week and American Diner week, where students prepare menu items such as hand-cut french fries, burgers made from freshly ground beef and macaroni and cheese.

This week was Cook by the Book, where students prepared their favorite recipes from the course textbook. The offering of the four-course meal included an aperitif of roasted beet puree and fresh-baked pretzals, a choice of several appetizers (warm pear salad, navy bean soup and lamp sliders), entrees (herb chicken, corned beef, mahi mahi and wilted spinach salad) and desserts (angel food cake, chocolate macadamia chunk cookies and mile high carrot cake).

Walter Mozgala, a retired HCC botanist who comes regularly to the lunch series, said his entree choice of grilled Indian spided Mahi Mahi was "hands-down" his favorite meal of the semester so far. "It was delicious," he said.

It's common to find the same people sitting together for lunch every week, said Turgeon. The biology department regularly reserves a table or two.

Beverly Wodicka, a graphic design instructor, sits with her colleagues from the Media Arts Department. "It's nice, and you get to sit and eat with people you know," she said. If she wasn't eating here, she said, she'd probabaly just bring her lunch from home.

Photos: (Left) Students serve lunch to patrons during the Culinary Arts spring lunch series. (Right) Chef and culinary instructor Warren Leigh, right, schools offers cooking tips to students in the kitchen. 


Holyoke Community College
303 Homestead Ave. Holyoke, MA 01040